On Criticism and Industry Peer Review

Not too long ago, director Joss Whedon tweeted about a clip from Jurassic World film, particularly responding to a post from the feminist website The Mary Sue, describing the clip as "70's era sexist" and summarizing the clip as "She's a stiff, he's a life force - really? Still?" Whedon since walked back his comments describing the comment as "bad form."

Now this post isn't about feminism, Whedon, Whedon's role as a feminist icon, gender roles in pop culture, or even the stupidity of Twitter conversations. This post is about criticism and film thought. When I first saw Whedon's tweet, I thought it was kind of badass. I didn't read it as a commentary on The Mary Sue but a mere reading of the clip. Sure, it was in somewhat bad form. And you can't (or shouldn't) judge an entire film based solely on one clip. You should also never judge a film merely by what its characters say. His comment, however, was an accurate reading of this singular clip that does hint at questionable writing and lazy storytelling (maybe not the best first clip to release for a film), a reading that I admit I didn't pick up on until seeing his comment. Upon Jurassic World's release, it seems like Whedon was on to something...heels and all.
It was oddly refreshing to see Whedon make that comment for the sheer fact that you never see another contemporary studio filmmaker comment on another contemporary studio filmmaker's work. Why would you criticize someone when you might work with them in the future or run into them at a party? It would be weird. And maybe this is why Whedon walked back on his comments, because of sheer industry politeness.

The irony lies in the fact that when a filmmaker makes a movie, they question everything about it themselves. I've never worked on a movie that I didn't think was complete shit at one point or another. I'm not saying everyone should have such a cynical attitude, but in my own process, this works for me. It makes me work harder.

Filmmaking is film criticism. A good director, a good writer, a good DP, a good gaffer, a good sound designer, is ALWAYS rethinking and reworking and reanalyzing their work to convey the meaning behind the story. I don't understand why Hollywood has perpetuated an environment where you can't critique the work of your peers. Actually, scratch that. It's because of commerce. You're selling a product and people don't want to buy a product that has bad reviews. But people in the industry, more so than consumers, should have a highly critical eye. But this is an industry full of assholes and studios trying to sell a product. A lot of good filmmakers, however, want to work with people who challenge them and make them better.

Peer review is a wildly important aspect of the creative process in any medium. The film industry should learn to embrace it. The result will be stronger films, better consumers, and even greater revenue.


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